Lake of ire

scan0001 The sorry tale of Julie Lake (left), the war memorial hero/thug, really demonstrates the desperate bandwagon jumping and populism of the Bristol Evening Post. The facts of the story were always pretty straightforward. Back in December 2007 Lake attacked a teenager in the street and threw his bike into the road after wrongly accusing him of vandalising the local war memorial in Mangotsfield near Bristol. Lake was subsequently arrested and charged when the boy’s parents complained to the police.

The Post predictably jumped to Lake’s defence hailing her as a hero for confronting those modern day folk devils, “The Yobs”. This reaction is typical of much of the press with its constant attacks on young people and its crusade against the amorphous “anti-social behaviour” which the young are accused of subjecting us to.

This is from the Post’s editorial on the day it broke the story;

“Rather than threaten Julie Lake with arrest the police should have given her a pat on the back. She had reached the end of her tether with the behaviour of youths vandalising the Mangotsfield war memorial. So she took one of them to task – and good for her. She has nothing to apologise for and she did nothing for which she should face charges. What Mrs Lake did was to challenge unacceptable, disrespectful behaviour and to deliver a good old-fashioned clip around the ear. Then she threw the lad’s bike into the road to let him know what it is like to have his property abused. It is not that long ago the police would have backed her or given the lad a clip around the ear themselves. Not now, though. They want her to report to them in January, when she faces being arrested.”

There then followed the usual letters moaning about “The PC Brigade” and going soft on yobs etc etc ad infinitum. The Post managed to whip up a minor storm of reaction from some of the more backward parts of the region and the stench of bigotry and publicity soon attracted celebrity lawyer “Mr Loophole” Nick Freeman who offered Lake his services for free.

Also whipped up by the Post’s campaign to support “war hero’s daughter” Lake, the local Royal British Legion pledged its supportscan0001 to the war memorial defender. This culminated in July in the ridiculous and demeaning spectacle of war vet Legion members in uniform with regimental flags and medals forming a photo-op honour-guard for Lake (and the Post) outside the magistrates court.

Another bizarre moment in this story was when the Post, obviously trying to find any possible angle to keep this populist campaign going, went to photograph the ‘desecrated’ war memorial. Post readers were encouraged to vent whatever outrage we had left at a photo of the brave memorial surrounded by an empty drink can and a crisp packet; that was the vandalism.

So, when Lake eventually admitted to attacking the wrong boy and was found guilty of a public order offence the Post’s embarrassing climb-down was just as inevitable as its original reaction.

The Post quickly changed its angle and focused on the failure of cops and parents to prevent “anti-social behaviour” (but where were Julie Lake’s parents?). Lake, they suggested, was provoked to attack a random teenager and it was all someone else’s fault. The Post also carried a favourable full page interview with the boy they had previously accused of vandalism and supported violence against. Now we were told about the boy’s war hero grandparents, his visits to Belgian war graves, his good character and how the “shy boy” had never been in trouble with the police.

The Post editorial following Lake’s conviction exposes the full hypocrisy and folly of the paper’s moral crusades,

“In a sense the outcome of Julie Lake’s trial was inevitable. From the moment she accepted that she had attacked the wrong teenager, she was likely to be found guilty. She was in the wrong and no one would condone an attack on an innocent bystander.

That said, there is a bigger issue here. It is one involving respect. She may have directed her anger at a youngster who had nothing to do with the desecration of the war memorial. But, while misdirected, her fury was understandable. She was livid at the disrespect some young people were showing to the area’s war dead after repeated damage had been caused, insulting, in her view, the memory of those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Lake is a woman so incensed by the lack of understanding and gratitude being shown by some of today’s teenagers that she was unable to control her feelings. She lost her temper – rarely a way to achieve anything positive. Yet in this instance, it has stirred a debate about the respect we should show our war dead. Ironically, the lad she attacked would probably have been the last to damage such a monument, having visited war graves on the continent. But there are others who have and do cause damage and without a second’s thought.

They were the ones Lake thought she was attacking. Her call after the case for more police to keep an eye on monuments such as this should be heeded. But more needs to be done than that. It should start with every parent and every teacher ensuring that youngsters recognise and respect war memorials and appreciate what they represent – a tangible reminder of those whose sacrifice ensured our freedom today.”

There are probably a number of lessons in this sorry little story. It tells us a lot about the way the media view young people and the automatic association with crime. It also tells us about the stupidity of playing to what you perceive are the bigotries of your readers. It should warn against dragging out your decrepit moral bandwagon at the first opportunity and rolling it in through all the facts. There will of course always be that minority of the population for whom no response is reactionary enough. They won’t be happy until everyone outside of their immediate circle is either banged up or being flogged in the street; but do we really want to pander to them? Fundamentally this story gives us a another glimpse at how the corporate media reinforce established prejudice and ideas rather than question them.

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